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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  October 10, 2014 11:30pm-12:01am EDT

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good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with hilary swank. she has two movies out. first, "you're not you" playing a pianist suffering from als. and a western directed by tommy lee jones, "the homesman." we are glad you are joining us, the conversation with hilary swank, coming upright now. ♪
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♪ the california endowment, help happens in neighborhoods. learn more. contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ any role hilary swank takes on catapults her about awards. this time, she has two films out generating critical attention.
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"you're not you" with emmy rossum and "the homesman" with meryl streep. "you're not you" hits first. she's struggling with als, better known as lou gehrigs disease. you can see the toll it takes on her character. >> who is he having drinks with? >> al. >> tom said he saw evan walking. >> great. well, then, drinks means he'll be there all night, which means more time for us. >> congratulations to us. >> thank you. >> i'm just tired.
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it's going to be easier once you get stronger. >> i'm not getting stronger. please don't say that. i just hate when people say that. >> how is that for brutal honesty. >> right. i think that's the thing terminal illness brings you, just to be brutally honest with everything happening in your life because you don't have that much longer to live. get real with everything. >> i'm always amazed by the things actors do, have to do, choose to do to get into character. how do you go about researching als, as a character? >> well, i was fortunate enough to speak with a couple people who had been diagnosed and were living with als. they were very candid and very, just generous with explaining everything and answering any questions and asking me not to
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be shy about my questioning them so i could portray the character as honestly as possible. to them, it was important to get it portrayed. we don't know what causes it. we aren't close to a cure and get the word out. >> what do you think of the timing of this film coming out when all these als bucket challenges? >> remarkable. so much of life is about timing. >> yeah. >> look, it's -- it's -- it's wonderful when something like that can draw attention to something that needs attention drawn to it. it's great. it's not only great it drew attention to it, but it raised a lot of money to find a cure or two to eradicate this disease. >> as informative and instrucktive as the bucket
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challenges have been around als, people still don't know what it is. there's something about a bucket challenge, a bucket of water poured over your head. it's cool, it raises money, it's a beautiful thing. there's nothing like the power of film to get us to understand better what we are up against. >> see it played out. right. anything the als ice bucket challenge made people aware, which started conversations and gets people talking about what it is. you are right, telling a story and watching it unfold for a couple hours or less to be able to see really what it means and how it affects people is a -- i'm really happy to be part of telling this story as a producer and actor, obviously. >> how did you go about choosing this? this is one of your projects. why did you choose this one? >> well, to me, this was such a great story about our roles in
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life about finding ourselves. itis called "you're not you" -- >> based on a book. >> yeah, based on a book. that title means we are more than we are. this character hadn't felt seen in her life by her husband and keeping herself contained in a perfect look and perfect house and being diagnosed with this then being cared for by her caretaker played by emmy rossum. and the ability to be seen by this person, two totally unlikely people who come together to help them become more fully realized and seen. to me, it's a love story between the two. a romantic love story. if there's any bright side to, if that's even a word to use, it's to get to the real fast.
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think of what you would do if you had a year to live. you would live your life differently. you would look at it differently and be grateful for different things. to me, that's what this is about. it's really getting to the real you. >> yeah. since you mentioned emmy rossum, we had her as a guest on the program in the past. it is a beautiful thing to see the relationship, i mean they were poor. you are both great actors. >> thank you. >> you are a two-time emmy winner. that comes across on the screen. >> i really fought for emmy. i thought she was the perfect bec. i was able to be hands on with all the casting decisions. to me, there was no question she was bec. she em bodied that character so beautiful in all the multifaceted aspects and colors and i loved collaborating with her. i respect her as a woman and
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artist and i'm happy to call her my friend now. >> yeah. this project, and you can't really tell by the clip we saw, i'm glad we played that clip. i was shocked or pleasantly surprised at how funny this movie is in certain places. >> yes. >> it's surprisingly funny in scenes. >> that was an important part of my character's unfolding and finding her realness. she was so uptight and held everything so closely. an important part of that was for emmy's character to say, come on, let loosz. live a little. live a little within this, come on. it's profound to say live a little while you are dying, but that's true. there's a lot of laughter she found before her death. that, to me, is what's so beautiful. she was able to be looked at
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that way. >> since you are the producer and star, i'll let you answer this in a way that doesn't give away too much. we are talking about emmy rossum, your character is married here. what do you want to say about that without giving too much of the story away? >> i think a grave illness like this, people respond differently. it's important to portray that in telling a story. some people really step up to the plate and show up and say i'm here for you. other people shy away because it's too much to handle. both sides of that are completely understandable and, so, it was important to show that. josh duhamel plays my husband. i felt in casting him, we know him more for his funny roles and comedic side. it was nice to give someone the opportunity to play the emotional side of things and to
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see him go there. >> i get your point. i don't disagree with you. when you are struggling with a disease like this, an illness, people respond in different ways. it doesn't make it easier on the person trying to navigate the disease when people they think or know love them and not being able to handle it. i thought about that. i understand that, you know, again, these take a toll on the caregivers and the loved ones. >> yes. >> it can't be easy for the person going through it to feel abandoned. >> yes, i think also, being a woman and, i think just intrinsically people have it in them to take care of other people and put other people first. when you are diagnosed with something like this and unable to care for other people, they then have to take care of you.
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the guilt it puts on a woman, on a person, i'm sure men would feel the same way in certain instances. it's our nurturing. it's in us to nurture other people. to be put in a position where it's taken away and we need to ask someone to help us is a very challenging position to be put in. i understand her struggles, too. i feel guilty. this isn't the life he chose or what he asked for. emmy's character says neither did you. it's like she never even thought of that. so, that's the beauty of different people's relationships in our lives. allowing us the opportunity to look at things in a different way than we see it. >> yeah. i mentioned earlier how funny this movie is in certain scenes. it was quite hilarious in this particular scene to see your caregiver, bec. >> yes. >> emmy rossum's character, when your voice starts to go,
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interpreting for you and others what you are trying to say and when you weren't being as shortcoming as you should have been. >> said it how it was. ah, you're me. >> kind of funny. >> yes. >> the reason i'm asking this question, there's a follow up. >> how often would you like to be that person? i'll tell them what they should say. >> i have a guy named daniel. tell them what i really want to say. >> can you do that for me sometimes? please, danny? >> i don't really want to say this, here is what i'm feeling. tell them what i'm feeling. >> danny, i need your number. >> he's good at it, too. sometimes too good. there's a question i want to ask as a follow up. how long were you filming this? how long did it take to film it? >> approximately two months. >> two months. i ask that because
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toll does it take on you, the person, hilary swank when you are in this character eight weeks. >> it's hard to answer that because it was very difficult, but i ultimately step out every day and am able to use my body and i'm not paralyzed. the hardest thing was to understand that people are living with this disease right now. they are dying of this disease right now. more than anything, that affected me greatly. to take it a step further, when you are losing the weight to make it believable, not moving, the emotions that you go to when you are dealing with the stuff that's happening between the husband and death and all the questions that brings up. you can't -- you can say to yourself, this isn't really
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happening. i'm acting, yet your body is going through those emotions. it's hard to separate. again, mostly touching, hitting that depth of knowing someone is living with this and suffering greatly with this is really hard to wrap your head around. >> you said in preparation for this, you know, you spent time with people. we saw pictures a moment ago of folks with als. you are producing this. you are starring in it. how do you -- how do you know when you have done on screen what you wanted to do or intended to do or you have gotten it right? you are not living with it every day. how do you know when you get it right? >> there's a couple ways to answer it. you do as much research as possible, talking to the als patients, working closely with a nurse who works with a handful of als patients. i worked with her three weeks
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solid on the physicality of what happens when your body becomes paralyzed, where it becomes paralyzed, when it doesn't. >> which you nailed, by the way. >> thank you. thank you. it's so important. like i said, to tell it honestly and show the trials and tribulations. now the thing is, you don't shoot an order. you have to go here, here. it doesn't give much room for the editor to move around. if you are at that point in your voice, they can't use that scene another time. the other thing is, you were supposed to not understand me, therefore emmy's character was translating for me. when she's not translating for me, how do you make it just barely understandable so the audience doesn't need her as a translator. that was really the biggest challenge of just getting to that place. but, again, this, for me, is where my passion lies as an actor.
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to embody and understand what is happening. and to bring it about physically. it's always a scary thing like can i actually do it? when you have the people around you, there to support you and you can lean on them and have them on set for the hardest scenes. the nurse would say, when you fall out of bed, that wouldn't be possible to pull yourself that way or this way. to have them guide you along with way is super important. >> you are reading my mind in terms of where i want to take the conversation. let me start with this, hilary. you said, as an actor, i'm paraphrasing, but the sweet spot for you is looking at something you are a bit afraid of and asking, can i pull this off? i get that. we all want to challenge ourselves. >> yes. >> why does that particular fear, for some, drive people away and they decide they don't want to take that risk?
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it might be a quantum leap versus other people like yourself who jump in with both feet? >> i don't know. i guess you would really, in the end have to ask them. maybe it's not where their passion lies. >> why does my passion lie there? >> why does the fear attract you? yes. >> it's a really good question. i think part of it is just who i am. part of it may be my sign. leo's like a challenge. i'm a leo through and through. i like to challenge myself in every way, not just my life as an actor and artist. pushing myself constantly. i don't want to wrestle my laurels. i always want to do something that scares me. that also challenges me. that's me in my every day life. i want to, you know, whether i'm doing sports, like i'm learning how to play tennis. i'm obsessed with it. i like to compete with myself. i guess that's a good way to say it. i like to challenge myself, whether it's learning a new
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language or trying something new. it's passionate to me. that's passion. >> you take on these characters -- i take that answer, but you take on characters that are physically challenging. >> yeah. >> it's more than emotion -- >> to me, i guess, you know, i became an actor because i love people and i love their stories and i love what makes you and i similar and what makes us different. essentially, as an actor, i get to walk in other people's shoes and see life through different people's eyes in a really profound way, really profound. so, it doesn't just make me grow as an artist, it gives me an opportunity to grow as a human being. to understand -- actually i scratch the surface because i go back to being me, but to embody
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that and understand what it feels like, it gives me this great ability to empathize and feel like, i don't mean to sound corny, but one with other people. there's no other way of saying it. to me, i love that. i like to travel the world. seeing the world map behind you. i love that. i love to celebrate people's differences and yet feel connected in our sameness. >> you mentioned earlier in the conversation, this is one of your projects, your production company. we talk about that in a second, which is somebody else's project you are starring in. it seems to me, to your point about acting allowing you to gravel in the humanity of other people -- >> yeah. >> when you are doing your own projects you choose what you want to do. i think, art at its best doesn't preach to us, but entertains us and empowers us. how do you go about making
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choices for the stuff you want to produce. you are picking things making a statement, but the good news is we are not being preached to. >> thank you. i'm glad you don't feel that. that gives us an incredible ability to either connect to it, learn from it or be entertained by it. that's the beauty of film. for me, i am in this really blessed position, ultimately, because material gets sent to me now. doesn't mean i don't go out and search for great things that i want to bring to life. for the most part, these things come across me desk. this book was brought to my producing partner, molly smith and my company bial son greenspan and denise. we have this great book that was brought to me and if it's a script, you know, it's my agent will read something and say i found this and love it for you and i read it right away.
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i always look for magazine articles, scripts, submissions from people. someone might stop you on the street and say i have a great script. i'm going to read it. you never know where this great story is going to be. >> you want to do more of this? >> acting? >> producing. >> yes, actually. >> i hope you want to do more acting. >> me, too. i can't imagine. it brings so much joy to my life, i can't imagine not being an actor. i do want to keep producing. i think it gives you -- it gives me the ability to tell stories i'm not in either. i can just tell, be a part of telling great stories, hopefully. >> you are in "homesman." >> yes. >> i'm anxious to see this. tell me about this tommy lee jones project. >> this is another opportunity i got to play a character that, to me, i don't ever like to pick
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favorites and say this character was my favorite. they all have a special place in your heart. it's like picking a favorite child. this woman is to beautiful in what she is and what she embodies. she has values. she has manners. she has morals. we are living in a day and age where we lost touch of that. she does the right thing because you should do the right thing. not because she's looking for applause or love. that's the way it should be. i love that about her. to me, the movie is a feminine movie. it deals with the objectification and trivialization of women. it takes place in the mid-1800s. it's what women now are dealing with in 2014. it's timely. it transcends time in that nature. i find it really interesting that tommy lee jones, who a lot
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of people go, wow, what was that like? you know, people have a lot of stereotypes of him. he's intense and gruff. to me, it shows how much heart he has and how we constantly like to stereotype. it kind of busts over the stereotype of him. he co-wrote it. he directed and stars. it's a story that was important for him to tell. >> you worked with great directors. we know how close you are with clint eastwood. >> yeah. >> what do you take away from having the chance to work with these great directors? >> so much. you know, with clint, clint was such a reminder to trust your instinc instincts. >> he's not super hands on as a director. he hired you because he believes in you. not just the crew, everyone around him. he's a reminder to trust your
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instincts. tommy lee is a reminder, he's got this brilliant mind. and, he makes me want to work harder. he makes me want to learn more. he makes me want to go back to school. it's great, all these pieces you can take away from everyone you work with. >> the project is called "you're not you." that's the first one. "you're not you" is the first project produced by and starring hilary swank and she's in "homesman" with tommy lee jones and meryl streep. >> november 14. >> glad your poem told you. >> thank you. >> it's nice to have you here. >> it's nice to have a real conversation. that's the show for tonight. as always, keep the faith.
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for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at >> hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me with mull pl grammy winner, al jarreau. that's next time. see you then.
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the california endowment health happens in neighborhoods. learn more. by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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>> charlie: well come to the program. we begin this evening with ian bremmer. >> the single thing that has the greatest impact makes the iran nuclear deal much less likely to happen because we realigned with the saudis and sighting with the sunni arab monarchies, our top priority is i.s.i.s., not getting an iran deal. iran's top priority is i.s.i.s., not getting a nuclear deal with the u.s. we only have five or six weeks to get the deal done, everything i've seen on the ground in iran, erdogan is going out. >> charlie: and walter isaacson, his latest book about


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